Nature () - Lieber Research Group


Nature () - Lieber Research Group
PUBLISHED ONLINE: 8 JUNE 2015 | DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2015.115
Syringe-injectable electronics
Jia Liu1†, Tian-Ming Fu1†, Zengguang Cheng1,2†, Guosong Hong1, Tao Zhou1, Lihua Jin3,
Madhavi Duvvuri1, Zhe Jiang1, Peter Kruskal1, Chong Xie1, Zhigang Suo3, Ying Fang2*
and Charles M. Lieber1,3*
Seamless and minimally invasive three-dimensional interpenetration of electronics within artificial or natural structures
could allow for continuous monitoring and manipulation of their properties. Flexible electronics provide a means for
conforming electronics to non-planar surfaces, yet targeted delivery of flexible electronics to internal regions remains
difficult. Here, we overcome this challenge by demonstrating the syringe injection (and subsequent unfolding) of submicrometre-thick, centimetre-scale macroporous mesh electronics through needles with a diameter as small as 100 μm.
Our results show that electronic components can be injected into man-made and biological cavities, as well as dense gels
and tissue, with >90% device yield. We demonstrate several applications of syringe-injectable electronics as a general
approach for interpenetrating flexible electronics with three-dimensional structures, including (1) monitoring internal
mechanical strains in polymer cavities, (2) tight integration and low chronic immunoreactivity with several distinct regions
of the brain, and (3) in vivo multiplexed neural recording. Moreover, syringe injection enables the delivery of flexible
electronics through a rigid shell, the delivery of large-volume flexible electronics that can fill internal cavities, and
co-injection of electronics with other materials into host structures, opening up unique applications for flexible electronics.
he emergence of flexible electronics has significantly extended
the applications of electronics by allowing intimate interfaces
between electronic units and non-planar surfaces for better
monitoring and manipulation of their properties1–3. A variety of
electronic devices1–8 have been integrated on flexible and stretchable
substrates, enabling applications from foldable displays to electronic
skin3–8. Three-dimensional (3D) interpenetration of flexible electronics within existing structures could further broaden and open
up new applications by directly interfacing devices with the internal
structures of man-made and biological materials.
Recent work has shown that flexible electronics can be placed
into 3D structures through surgical processes9–12 or by being
attached to and subsequently released from a rigid delivery substrates13,14 for biological and biomedical applications. However,
direct 3D interpenetration of electronics within these structures is
limited by the intrinsic thin-film14 supporting substrates. We have
previously introduced a macroporous mesh paradigm that allows
electronics to be combined with polymer precursors and cells to
yield 3D interpenetration15,16, although controlled delivery and/or
non-surgical placement of these ultraflexible open electronic networks
into structures with seamless 3D integration and interpenetration
has not been possible.
Here, we describe the design and demonstration of macroporous
flexible mesh electronics, where the electronics can be precisely
delivered into 3D structures by syringe injection, whereupon they
subsequently relax and interpenetrate within the internal space of
man-made and biological materials. Distinct from previous
reports3,17,18, syringe injection requires the complete release of the
mesh electronics from a substrate so that the electronics can be
driven by solution through a needle. The syringe-injectable electronics concept involves (1) loading the mesh electronics into a
syringe and needle, (2) insertion of the needle into the material or
internal cavity and initiation of mesh injection (Fig. 1a), (3) simultaneous mesh injection and needle withdrawal to place the
electronics into the targeted region (Fig. 1b), and (4) delivery of
the input/output (I/O) region of the mesh outside the material
(Fig. 1c) for subsequent bonding and measurements.
Implementation of electronics for syringe injection
The mechanical properties of the free-standing mesh electronics are
important to the injection process. The basic mesh structure (Fig. 1d
and Supplementary Fig. 1a,b) consists of longitudinal polymer/
metal/polymer elements, which function as interconnects between
exposed electronic devices and I/O pads and transverse polymer
elements. The mesh longitudinal and transverse bending stiffness,
DL and DT, are determined by the mesh unit cell, the corresponding
widths and thicknesses of the longitudinal and transverse elements,
and the angle α (refs 15, 16). Simulations of DT and DL versus α
(Fig. 1e) show that DT (DL) decreases (increases) with increasing
α. Hence, increasing α facilitates bending along the transverse direction (reduced DT) and should allow for rolling-up of the mesh electronics within a needle constriction, while at the same time
increasing DL , which should reduce bending and potential buckling
along the injection direction.
The mesh electronics were fabricated, fully released from the substrates using reported methods15,16, and loaded into glass needles
connected to a microinjector (Supplementary Sections 2 and 3
and Supplementary Figs 2 and 3). The image in Fig. 1f of the injection of a 2-mm-wide sample through a glass needle with an inner
diameter (ID) of 95 µm shows the compressed mesh ∼250 µm
from the needle opening, which is then injected ∼0.5 cm into ×1
phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) solution. The 3D image in
Fig. 1g highlights the unfolding of this mesh structure from the
point of the needle constriction (blue dashed box). Higher-resolution images (Supplementary Fig. 4a,b) show that the mesh structure is continuous as it unfolds. Similar results were obtained for
the injection of a sample (width of 1.5 cm) through a 20 gauge
(600 µm ID) metal needle (Supplementary Fig. 4c), demonstrating
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA. 2 National Center for Nanoscience and
Technology, 11 Beiyitiao Street, Zhongguancun, Beijing 100190, China. 3 School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge,
Massachusetts 02138, USA. †These authors contributed equally to this work. *e-mail: [email protected]; [email protected]
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2015.115
18 × 10−3
4.0 × 10−3
DL (nN m)
DT (nN m)
α (deg)
6 mm
Yield (%)
ΔZ/Z (%)
100 μm
Inner diameter (μm)
500 μm
Yield (%)
ΔG/G (%)
Inner diameter (μm)
Figure 1 | Syringe-injectable electronics. a–c, Schematics of injectable electronics. Red-orange lines highlight the overall mesh structure and indicate the
regions of supporting and passivating polymer mesh layers. Yellow lines indicate metal interconnects between I/O pads (green filled circles) and recording
devices (blue filled circles). d, Schematic of the mesh electronics design (top). Orange and red lines represent polymer-encapsulated metal interconnects and
supporting polymer elements, respectively, and W is the total width of the mesh. The dashed black box (bottom) highlights the structure of one unit cell
(white dashed lines), where α is the angle of deviation from rectangular. e, Longitudinal mesh bending stiffness DL and transverse mesh bending stiffness DT
as a function of α (defined in d). f,g, Images of mesh electronics injection through a glass needle (ID = 95 µm) into ×1 PBS solution: bright-field microscopy
image of the mesh electronics immediately before injection into solution (f, the red arrow indicates the end of the mesh inside the glass needle); 3D
reconstructed confocal fluorescence image recorded following injection of ∼0.5 cm mesh electronics into ×1 PBS solution (g). Blue and white dashed boxes
in g correspond to the regions shown in Supplementary Fig. 3a,b. h, Optical image of an injectable mesh electronics structure unfolded on a glass substrate
(W is the total width of the mesh electronics). The red dashed polygon highlights the position of electrochemical devices or FET devices. Green and black
dashed boxes highlight metal interconnect lines and metal I/O pads, respectively. i,j, Yields and change (with ±1 standard deviation, s.d.) in properties postinjection for single-terminal electrochemical and two-terminal FET devices. In i, yield (blue) and impedance change (red) are shown for metal electrodes
from mesh electronics injected through 32, 26 and 22 gauge metal needles. Inset: bright-field image of a representative metal electrode on the mesh
electronics, where the sensing electrode is highlighted by a red arrow. Scale bar, 20 µm. In j, yield (blue) and conductance change (red) are shown for silicon
nanowire FETs following injection through 32, 26, 24, 22 and 20 gauge needles. Inset: scanning electron microscopy (SEM) image of a representative
nanowire FET device in the mesh electronics. The nanowire is highlighted by a red arrow. Scale bar, 2 µm.
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2015.115
α = 45˚
W = 5 mm
ID = 450 µm
α = 45˚
W = 5 mm
ID = 250 µm
α = 45˚
W = 15 mm
ID = 450 µm
α = 0˚
W = 10 mm
ID = 450 µm
250 µm
450 µm
450 µm
450 µm
200 µm
100 µm
200 µm
200 µm
200 µm
100 µm
200 µm
200 µm
Figure 2 | Imaging of the mesh electronics structure in needle constrictions. a, Schematic illustrating the structure of a pulled glass tube (blue) with mesh
electronics passing from the larger (left) to smallest (centre) ID of the tube. The red arrow indicates the direction of injection, and the x, y and z axes
indicate coordinates relative to the microscope objective for images in c–e. b, Schematic image of the mesh structure from the region of the constriction
indicated by the blue dashed box in a. c, Bright-field microscopy images of different design mesh electronics injected through glass channels. I and II
(W = 5 mm, α = 45°): mesh electronics injected through glass channels with 450 and 250 µm ID, respectively. III (W = 15 mm, α = 45°): mesh electronics
injected through a 450 µm ID glass channel. IV (W = 10 mm, α = 0°): mesh electronics injected through a 450 µm ID glass channel. The injection direction is
indicated by red arrows. The orientation relative to the axes in a is indicated in I and is the same for II to IV. d, 3D reconstructed confocal images from the
dashed red box regions in c, I–IV. The x, y and z axes in I are the same for II to IV. Small white horizontal arrows in c and d indicate several of the
longitudinal elements containing metal interconnects in the mesh electronics. e, Cross-sectional images plotted as half cylinders from positions indicated by
the vertical white dashed lines in d. White dashed curves indicate the approximate IDs of the glass constrictions.
the generality of this injection through common glass and metal
syringe needles.
To test further the electrical continuity and functionality of the
mesh electronics post-injection, we used anisotropic conductive
film (ACF)19 to connect the I/O pads of the electronics post-injection to flexible cables that were interfaced to measurement electronics (Supplementary Fig. 5a–d). Studies of the electrical
performance and yield of the devices following injection into ×1
PBS solution through 100–600 µm ID needles (Fig. 1i,j) highlighted
several points. First, the metal electrochemical devices had an
average device yield >94% and an average device impedance
change (an important characteristic for voltage sensing applications20,21) of <7% post-injection (Fig. 1i). Second, the silicon
nanowire field-effect transistor (FET) devices had a yield >90%
for needle IDs from 260 to 600 µm, only dropping to 83% for the
smallest 100 µm ID needles, and exhibited <12% conductance
change on average post-injection (Fig. 1j). Together, these results
demonstrate the robustness of our mesh electronics design and
the capability of maintaining good device performance following
injection through a wide range of needle IDs.
We characterized the structures of different mesh electronics
within glass needle-like constrictions to understand the design parameters for successful injection (Fig. 2a,b). Bright-field microscopy
images of mesh electronics with different structural parameters
recorded from the central region of glass channels with different
IDs (Fig. 2c) highlight two important features. First, mesh
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
We have investigated several applications of our syringe-injectable
electronics, including the delivery of electronics to internal regions
of man-made structures and live animals. First, mesh electronics
incorporating addressable silicon nanowire piezoresistive strain
sensors16 were co-injected with polymer precursors through a
small injection site (Fig. 3a, Supplementary Fig. 8a and
Supplementary Section 3.5.1) into polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)
cavities, with I/O pads ejected outside the structure. Visual inspection, micro-computed tomography (µCT) images and photographs
(Fig. 3b and Supplementary Fig. 8b) demonstrate that the mesh electronics unfolds and smoothly follows the internal cavity structure
with continuous metal interconnects.
We monitored the response of the internal nanowire piezoresistive strain sensors as the PDMS structures were deformed. Plots of
strain recorded simultaneously for four typical calibrated devices
(d1–d4, Fig. 3c) versus deformation with a point load along the
Strain (%)
c 10.0
Time (s)
1 mm
Injection of electronics into synthetic structures
17 mm
1 mm
1 mm
1 mm
electronics with α = 45° and widths substantially larger than the
constriction ID can be smoothly injected. Relatively straight
longitudinal elements are seen in Fig. 2c,I and II, where the
5 mm two-dimensional mesh widths are 11 and 20 times larger
than the respective 450 and 250 µm ID needle constrictions.
Second, even mesh electronics with a width of 1.5 cm (Fig. 2c,III)
can be injected smoothly through a 33 times smaller ID (450 µm)
The corresponding 3D reconstructed confocal images with
higher resolution of α = 45° mesh electronics samples with mesh
width/constriction ID ratios from 11 to 33 (Fig. 2d,I to III) highlight
several important points. First, the longitudinal elements maintain a
straight geometry without substantial bending through the constriction, even for the 33:1 ratio (Fig. 2d,III). Second, these images show
that the transverse elements bend with a curvature that matches
the needle ID, and the longitudinal elements and estimated
number of rolls of the mesh at the needle constriction are comparable to geometric calculations (Supplementary Section 5.1).
This latter point and further structural details can be seen in
cross-sectional plots of these 3D images (Fig. 2e,I–III), which
highlight uniformly organized transverse and longitudinal
elements near the IDs of the glass constriction. Third, there is
no evidence for fracture of the α = 45° design mesh elements.
Indeed, simulations of the strain versus needle ID show that
the upper limit strain value for the mesh in a 100-µm-ID
needle, ∼1%, is less than the calculated critical fracture strain
(Supplementary Section 5.2.3).
In contrast, bright-field and 3D confocal images recorded from
the injection of α = 0° mesh electronics (Fig. 2c–e,IV) and thinfilm electronics (Supplementary Fig. 6) show that these structures
are not smoothly injected through the needle-like constrictions.
Specifically, images of a mesh sample with α = 0° (Fig. 2d,IV) but
a smaller width than α = 45° (Fig. 2d,III) exhibit jammed mesh at
the constriction. The structure is deformed and fills the crosssection of the channel (Fig. 2e,IV), rather than rolling up as
observed for α = 45°. Injection of thin-film electronics with the
same thickness and total width as the mesh in Fig. 2c,I for a
width/needle ID ratio of 11 became jammed in the channel
(Supplementary Fig. 6a,I). Reducing the thin-film width/needle
ID ratio to 4 did lead to successful injection (Supplementary
Fig. 6a,II), although 3D confocal microscopy images
(Supplementary Fig. 6b,c) show substantial buckling of the structure, in contrast to our α = 45° mesh design. These results confirm
that the reduced transverse bending stiffness for the α = 45°
design plays a key role in allowing the mesh electronics to smoothly
roll up, follow the needle ID with minimum strain, and thereby
allow for the injection of two-dimensional widths >30 times the
needle ID.
DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2015.115
24 h
48 h
3 weeks
Figure 3 | Syringe injection of mesh electronics into 3D synthetic
structures. a, Schematic of mesh electronics injected with an uncured PDMS
precursor into a PDMS cavity (blue) with I/O pads unfolded outside the
cavity. The injected PDMS precursors were cured after injection. Red lines
highlight the overall mesh structure and indicate the regions of supporting
and passivating polymers, and yellow lines indicate the metal interconnects
between I/O pads (yellow filled circle) and devices (dark green filled circle).
b, µCT image showing the zoomed-in structure highlighted by the black
dashed box in a and Supplementary Fig. 7b. False colours were applied for
the metal lines (yellow) in PDMS (purple). c, Four-nanowire device response
to pressure applied on the PDMS. Blue downward and upward pointing
triangles denote the time points when the strain was applied and released,
respectively. Purple downward and upward arrows show the tensile and
compressive strains, corresponding to the minus and plus change in
conductance, respectively. d–f, Upper images: 3D reconstructed µCT images
of mesh electronics injected into 75% Matrigel after incubation for 0 h (d),
24 h (e) and 3 weeks (f) at 37 °C. The x, y and z axes are shown in d and
apply to e and f, where the injection direction is approximately along the
z axis. In d–f, false colours were applied with metal lines in the mesh in yellow
and the Matrigel in purple. Lower images: corresponding cross-section
images at z = 10 mm with thickness of 500 µm. The positions of the crosssections are indicated by white dashed lines in the upper images. The
maximum extent of unfolding of the mesh electronics is highlighted by white
dashed circles (with diameter D) in each image. g, Time dependence of
mesh electronics unfolding following injection into 25% (black), 75% (red)
and 100% (blue) Matrigel. Measured diameter D was normalized by the 2D
width W of the fabricated mesh electronics. D was sampled from five crosssections taken at z = 5, 7.5, 10, 12.5 and 15 mm to obtain the average ± 1 s.d.
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2015.115
z axis show compressive (d1, d3) and tensile (d2, d4) local strains
recorded by the nanodevices. Mapping the strain response onto
the optical image of the electronics/PDMS hybrid shows the nanowire sensors separated by up to 4 mm (Supplementary Fig. 8c), with
the compressive and tensile strains consistent with expectation for
the point-like deformation. These data suggest that syringe injection
of mesh electronics with piezoresistive devices could be used to
monitor and map internal strains within structural components
with gaps/cracks in a manner that is not currently possible, and
more generally, to simultaneously monitor corrosion and strain
within internal cavities or cracks by using nanowire devices to
also measure pH and other chemical changes22.
Second, we investigated 3D gel structures without cavities as
representative models of mesh electronics injection into soft
materials and biological tissue. Images recorded versus time following the injection of mesh electronics into Matrigel, a scaffold used in
neural tissue engineering (Fig. 3d–f )23, show that the mesh unfolds
∼80% in the radial direction over a three-week period at 37 °C. As
expected, the degree of unfolding of the mesh electronics within
the Matrigel depends on the gel concentration for fixed mesh mechanical properties (Fig. 3g), with ∼90 and 30% unfolding for 25 and
100% Matrigel, respectively. The ability to inject and observe partial
unfolding of the electronics within gels with tissue-like properties
also suggests that co-injection with other biomaterials24 and/or
cells25 could be another application of injectable mesh electronics.
Indeed, preliminary experiments show that co-injection of mesh
electronics and embryonic rat hippocampal neurons into Matrigel
leads to 3D neural networks with neurites interpenetrating the
mesh electronics (Supplementary Fig. 8d,e). These co-injection
results highlight potential opportunities for tissue engineering and
stem cell therapy25.
Injection of mesh electronics into live rodent brains
Finally, we investigated the behaviour of mesh electronics stereotaxically injected into the lateral ventricle (LV) and hippocampus (HIP)
of live rodents (Fig. 4a–d and Supplementary Section 3.6)26, where
the capability to deliver electronics (with widths on the scale of
millimetres) through needles with outer diameters (ODs) on the
scale of hundreds of micrometres allows for a much smaller
window in the skull than the usual widths of electronics, thereby
reducing the invasiveness of the surgery. Confocal microscopy
images recorded from tissue slices from the LV region prepared
five weeks post-injection of the mesh electronics (Fig. 4e–g and
Supplementary Fig. 9) demonstrate several important points. First,
the mesh electronics relaxes from the initial ∼200 µm injection
diameter to bridge the caudoputamen (CPu) and lateral septal
nucleus (LSD) regions, which define the boundaries of the cavity
in this slice (Fig. 4e). Second, higher-resolution images from the
boundary between the electronics and the CPu/subventricular
zone (Fig. 4f and Supplementary Fig. 9a) show that the mesh electronics interpenetrates with the boundary cells and that cells stained
with neuron marker NeuN associate tightly with the mesh. Third,
control images recorded from the same tissue slice but the opposite
hemisphere (without injected mesh electronics; Supplementary
Fig. 9b,d–f ) show that the level of glial fibrillary acidic protein
(GFAP) expression is similar with and without the injected mesh
electronics, indicating little chronic tissue response to the mesh
electronics. Fourth, images of the mesh electronics in the middle
of the LV (Fig. 4g and Supplementary Fig. 9c) show a large
number of 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI) stained cells
bound to the mesh structure. These images indicate that (1) the
mesh expands to integrate within the local extracellular matrix
(that is, the mesh is neurophilic), (2) cells form tight junctions
with the mesh, and (3) neural cells migrate hundreds of micrometres
from the subventricular zone along the mesh structure27. Notably,
these results suggest using injectable electronics to mobilize and
monitor neural cells from the LV region following brain injury28
as well as delivering mesh electronics to other biological cavities
for recording and stimulation.
We also injected mesh electronics into the dense tissue of the
HIP (Fig. 4d). Bright-field images of coronal tissue slices, prepared
five weeks post-injection (Fig. 4h and Supplementary Fig. 10a,b),
demonstrate that the electronics is fully extended in the longitudinal
direction. The mesh only relaxes a small amount with respect to the
initial injection diameter (red dashed lines in Fig. 4h), because the
force required to bend the mesh16 is comparable to the force
needed to deform the tissue23,29. In addition, an overlay of brightfield and DAPI epi-fluorescence images (Fig. 4i) shows that the
injection did not disrupt the CA1 and dentate gyrus (DG) layers
of this region. The confocal images (Fig. 4j and Supplementary
Figs 10c, 11 and 12) highlight the unique characteristics of the
injectable mesh electronics in dense neural tissue. First, analysis of
GFAP fluorescence shows that there is limited or no astrocyte proliferation near the mesh, although the full image (Fig. 4j) indicates a
reduction in cell density at the central region of injection.
Significantly, analysis of similar horizontal slice samples prepared
from three independent mesh injections (Supplementary Figs 11
and 12a,b) also show limited or no astrocyte proliferation around
our electronics, and quantitative analyses (Supplementary
Figs 11b,II and 12b) demonstrate that GFAP values versus distance
from and along the mesh electronics surface are similar to the background level. Second, these images show healthy neurons (NeuN
signal) surrounding and close to the SU-8 ribbons of the mesh
(Fig. 4j and Supplementary Figs 10c and 12c). Data and analyses
from three independent samples (Supplementary Figs 11 and 12d,I)
quantitatively support this observation. Specifically, quantitative
analyses (Supplementary Figs 11b,I and 12d) demonstrate that the
NeuN signals versus distance from and along the mesh electronics
surface are enhanced or similar to background levels. These observations, which are similar to our results for injections into the LV,
show the capability of the mesh electronics to promote positive cellular interactions, in contrast to the reported chronic responses of
neural tissue following the insertion of silicon30, metal13, polyimide31/SU-832 or ultrasmall carbon33 electrical probes, which
reduced the neuron density and enhanced the astrocyte density
near the probes/tissue interface.
We attribute the unique biocompatibility of our syringe-injected
mesh electronics to their ultra-small bending stiffness and micrometre-scale features. The bending stiffness of the injected mesh electronics (0.087 nN m) is four to six orders of magnitude smaller
than the values reported for previous implantable electronics,
such as silicon (4.6 × 105 nN m)30,34, carbon fibre (3.9 × 104 nN m)33
and thin-film electronic (0.16–1.3 × 104 nN m)12,13,35 probes
(Supplementary Section 5.2.2). The flexibility of the injected electronics is closer to the flexibility of the tissue, which has been
demonstrated to minimize mechanical trauma caused by the relative
motion between the probe and surrounding tissue33,35. In addition,
the feature sizes of our injected mesh electronics (5–20 µm) are less
than or equal to those of single cells, which can also reduce chronic
damage, even when the probe stiffness is much greater than that of
the tissue33.
Finally, we verified the ability of the injected mesh electronics to
record brain activity in the HIP of anaesthetized mice (Fig. 4k,i and
Supplementary Fig. 13). Representative multichannel recordings
using mesh electronics with Pt-metal electrodes (Fig. 4k) yielded
well-defined signals in all 16 channels. The modulation amplitude
(200–400 µV) and dominant modulation frequency (1–4 Hz)
recorded are characteristic of δ-wave local field potentials (LFPs)
in anaesthetized mice. Moreover, spatiotemporal mapping of the
LFP recordings (Supplementary Fig. 13d) revealed characteristic
hippocampal field activity for the rodent brain36,37. Standard analysis
(see Methods)38,39 of the sharp downward spikes (Fig. 4l) showed a
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2015.115
5 mm
Metal SU-8 DAPI
800 µm
75 µm
40 µm
800 µm
400 µm
80 µm
10 µV
100 µm
250 µV
0.2 ms
Figure 4 | Syringe-injectable electronics into an in vivo biological system. a, Schematic shows in vivo stereotaxic injection of mesh electronics into a mouse
brain. b, Optical image of the stereotaxic injection of mesh electronics into an anaesthetized three-month-old mouse brain. c,d, Schematics of coronal slices
illustrating the two distinct areas of the brain into which mesh electronics were injected: through the cerebral cortex (CTX) and into the lateral ventricle (LV)
cavity adjacent to the caudoputamen (CPu) and lateral septal nucleus (LSD) (c) and through the CTX into the hippocampus (HIP) (d). Red lines highlight
and indicate the overall structure of the mesh, and dark blue filled circles indicate recording devices. The blue dashed lines indicate the direction of horizontal
slicing for imaging. e, Projection of the 3D reconstructed confocal image from a 100-µm-thick, 3.17-mm-long and 3.17-mm-wide volume horizontal slice five
weeks post-injection at the position indicated by the blue dashed line in c. The red dashed line highlights the boundary of the mesh inside the LV, and the
solid red circle indicates the size of the needle used for injection. Red, green and blue colours correspond to GFAP, NeuN/SU-8 and DAPI, respectively, and
are denoted at the top of the image panel in this and subsequent images. f, 3D reconstructed confocal image from the dashed red box in Supplementary
Fig. 8a at the interface between the mesh electronics and subventricular zone (SVZ). g, 3D reconstructed confocal image from the dashed red box in
Supplementary Fig. 8c at the approximate middle (of the x–y plane) of the LV in the slice. h, Bright-field microscopy image of a coronal slice of the HIP
region five weeks post-injection of the mesh electronics. Red dashed lines indicate the boundary of the glass needle. White arrows indicate longitudinal
elements that were broken during tissue slicing. i, Overlaid bright-field and epi-fluorescence images from the region indicated by the white dashed box in h.
Blue corresponds to DAPI staining of the cell nuclei, and white arrows indicate CA1 and the dentate gyrus (DG) of the HIP. j, Projection of the 3D
reconstructed confocal image from a 30-µm thick, 317-µm-long and 317-µm-wide volume from the zoomed-in region highlighted by the black dashed box in
i. k, Acute in vivo 16-channel recording using mesh electronics injected into a mouse brain. The devices were Pt-metal electrodes (impedance ∼950 kΩ
at 1 kHz) with their relative positions marked by red spots in the schematic (left panel), and the signal was filtered with 60 Hz notch during acquisition.
The dashed red rectangle indicates the section used for spatiotemporal mapping of multichannel-LFP recordings (Supplementary Fig. 12d).
l, Superimposed single-unit neural recordings from one channel after 300–6,000 Hz band-pass filtering. The red line represents the mean waveform
for the single-unit spikes.
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2015.115
uniform potential waveform with average duration of ∼2 ms and
peak-to-peak amplitude of ∼70 µV characteristic of single-unit
action potentials33. In the context of long-term chronic recording,
our histology results and previous work12,13,15 demonstrate the
biocompatibility and long-term stability of using SU-8 passivated
interconnects, and the long-term stability of metal oxide passivated
silicon nanowire sensors15,40. Hence, we believe these results,
together with the ‘neurophilic’ chronic response, offer substantial
promise for implantation and long-term brain activity mapping41.
In summary, we have introduced a new strategy for delivering electronics to the internal regions of 3D man-made and biological structures that involves the syringe injection of submicrometre-thickness,
large-area macroporous mesh electronics. We have shown that mesh
electronics with widths more than 30 times the needle ID can be
injected and maintain a high yield of active electronic devices.
In situ imaging and modelling show that optimizing the transverse
and longitudinal stiffness enables the mesh to ‘roll up’ when
passing through needle constrictions. We have demonstrated that
injected mesh electronics with addressable piezoresistive devices
are capable of monitoring internal mechanical strains within bulk
structures, and have also shown that mesh electronics injected
into the brains of mice exhibit little chronic immunoreactivity,
attractive interactions with neurons, and can reliably monitor
brain activity. Compared to other delivery methods9–18, our
syringe injection approach allows the delivery of large (with
respect to the injection opening) flexible electronics into cavities
and existing synthetic materials through small injection sites and
relatively rigid shells. In the future, our new approach and results
could be extended in several directions, including the incorporation
of multifunctional electronic devices7,13,16,42 and/or wireless interfaces13,43 to further increase the complexity of the injected electronics. Additionally, recent reports42,44–46 have demonstrated that
novel electrophysiological recordings enabled by nanoelectronic
units require an intimate nanoelectronics/cellular interface. In this
emerging direction, our syringe-injectable electronics could serve
as a unique yet general platform for building direct neuron–nanoelectronics interfaces for in vivo studies. Finally, syringe injection
brings the opportunity to co-inject mesh electronics with a
polymer precursor or cells into host systems for unique engineering
and biomedical applications.
Methods and any associated references are available in the online
version of the paper.
Received 14 December 2014; accepted 28 April 2015;
published online 8 June 2015
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The authors thank J.L. Huang for in vivo scaffold fabrication. C.M.L. acknowledges support
from a National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award, the Air Force Office of
Scientific Research and the Star Family Fund.
DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2015.115
Author contributions
J.L., T.F., Z.C. and C.M.L. designed the experiments. J.L., T.F., Z.C., G.H., T.Z., M.D. and Z.J.
performed the experiments. L.J. and Z.S. performed FEM analysis. J.L., T.F., Z.C. and C.M.L.
analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. J.L., T.F., Z.C., G.H., T.Z., L.J., M.D., Z.J., P.K.,
C.X., Z.S., Y.F. and C.M.L. discussed manuscript.
Additional information
Supplementary information is available in the online version of the paper. Reprints and
permissions information is available online at Correspondence and
requests for materials should be addressed to Y.F. and C.M.L.
Competing financial interests
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2015.115
Free-standing injectable mesh electronics were fabricated on a nickel relief layer as
reported previously15,16. Following release from the substrate, the mesh electronics
were modified by poly-D-lysine (MW = 70,000–150,000, Sigma-Aldrich) and then
loaded into a syringe fitted with either a metal needle or a glass needle pulled by a
commercially available pipette puller (Model P-97, Sutter Instrument). A
microinjector (NPIPDES, ALA Scientific Instruments) and manually controlled
syringes (Pressure Control Glass Syringes) were used to inject the electronics.
Needles with an ID of 400 µm were used to investigate mesh electronics injection as
a function of the fluid flow rate. Smooth mesh electronics injection can be
established for flows from 20 to 150 ml h–1 as long as the needle retraction speed
matches the speed of the injected fluid. The lower limit for smooth injection,
20 ml h–1, is believed to be restricted by the smallest fluid drag force relative to the
friction force between the rolled-up mesh electronics and the inner needle surfaces.
The maximum flow (150 ml h–1) was limited by the needle retraction speed of the
set-up. To characterize the structures of different mesh electronics within glass
needle-like constrictions to understand the design parameters for successful
injection, a pulled glass tube with controlled ID central constriction was positioned
under a microscope objective for bright-field and confocal fluorescence imaging, and
the mesh electronics were partially injected through the constriction. Confocal
microscopes (Olympus Fluoview FV1000 and Zeiss LSM 780) were used to image
the structure of the mesh electronics in the glass channels and immunostained
mouse brain slices. ACF (AC-4351Y, Hitachi Chemical) bonding to the mesh
electronics I/O was carried out using a home-made or commercial bonding system
(Fineplacer Lambda Manual Sub-Micron Flip-Chip Bonder, Finetech) with a flexible
cable (FFC/FPC Jumper Cables PREMO-FLEX, Molex).
The PDMS cavity was designed with a step-like internal corrugation (four steps,
0.1 cm drop/step and a projected cavity area of 2 × 4.8 cm2). The strain response of
silicon nanowire piezoresistive strain sensors was measured by a multi-channel
current/voltage preamplifier (Model 1211, DL Instruments), filtered with a 3 kHz
low-pass filter (CyberAmp 380, Molecular Devices) and digitized at a 1 kHz
sampling rate (AxonDigi1440A, Molecular Devices), with a 100 mV d.c. source
bias voltage.
In a typical procedure for in vivo brain recording from metal electrodes, a
100–200 µm ID glass needle loaded with mesh electronics, mounted in the
stereotaxic apparatus and connected to a microinjector, was positioned to a specific
coordinate in the brain of an anaesthetized mouse and the mesh was then injected
concomitantly with retraction of the needle so that the electronics was extended
in the longitudinal (injection) direction. The flexible cable was connected to a
32-channel Intan RHD 2132 amplifier evaluation system (Intan Technologies)
with an Ag/AgCl electrode acting as the reference. A 20 kHz sampling rate and
60 Hz notch were used during acute recording. A 300–6,000 Hz bandpass filter38
and spike-sorting algorithm39 were used for single-unit action potential
data analysis.
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved